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UTPA provost provides input to Edinburg on new university

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2013 7:00 am

Outside Provost Havidán Rodriguez’s window, the University of Texas-Pan American campus is in a state of flux.

Its decades-old fine arts complex is being rebuilt into a sprawling performing arts center. Plans are underway for a new University College designed to help students transition from high school to college, and construction of Edinburg’s pedestrian-friendly corridor connecting UTPA’s campus to city hall and the county courthouse is also moving forward.

But Rodriguez sees the rapid changes outside his window as an unparalleled educational opportunity for Edinburg and the rest of the Valley. And as UTPA reaches a turning point in its history with its rebirth into a regional university that will feature a medical school, Edinburg officials will have someone to turn to when discussing the university’s needs.

Rodriguez was recently named to the five-member board of directors that oversees the Edinburg Economic Development Corp., the city’s job creation arm. As the university’s No. 2 official behind President Robert Nelsen, Rodriguez will connect the university and the city’s plans for how to work together to manage their growth.

“There are a number of projects that are in the plans to really increase the connection between the university and the city,” Rodriguez said Friday in his office on the fourth floor of UTPA’s visitors center. “The idea is to ensure that we continue to grow as a university, and the city continues to provide the services that we need as a growing university.”

Rodriguez, a sociologist who joined UTPA in January 2011, is the highest-ranking university official to serve on the development corporation’s board of directors. Although the corporation’s bylaws stipulate that one appointee must come through the university community, UTPA’s representative has typically been a professor or someone of similar stature.

But Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia approached Rodriguez to gauge his interest in UTPA’s seat after it became empty following a campus professor’s departure for a new job at Ohio State University. Rodriguez accepted the new role and, after his nomination was ratified by the city council, attended his first meeting on June 25.

He joins the development corporation as UTPA is being deliberately molded into a new form.

Gov. Rick Perry and University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa will be in Edinburg and Brownsville on Tuesday for a ceremonial bill signing to celebrate the merger of UTPA and the University of Texas at Brownsville into a new university. The new university will house a medical school with academic and clinical operations split between Harlingen and Edinburg, and it will provide both campuses access to the Permanent University Fund, a $13.9 billion endowment used by the UT System for programs ranging from construction to faculty retention.

Garcia, the Edinburg mayor, said Rodriguez can provide critical input into the university’s changes and how the city can help.

“As we grow and they grow, we want to be sure that we’re not stepping on each others’ toes in our growth plan,” said Garcia, who first met Rodriguez when he served on UTPA’s selection committee that hired him away from the University of Delaware. “This will be a perfect conduit.”

As one of the city’s largest employers, UTPA has always maintained close ties with Edinburg.

When UTPA didn’t qualify as a grant applicant for a storm shelter, Edinburg submitted and received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the university’s behalf, said Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza. The university and city have also partnered on issues such as developing Edinburg’s downtown revitalization plan or housing the Broncs’ baseball team in the city-owned ballpark.

“There are so many things we work on for the city that the university is such a big part of,” Garza said. “Right now, (Rodriguez’s appointment) is certainly going to continue the lines of communication with the university as we look to this new university that is coming together with the medical school.”

That could entail significant changes to accommodate a larger student and faculty presence on campus.

The university’s reach into the Permanent University Fund will eventually allow it to fund new construction, a need on a campus where, until recent work, the last academic building was added in 2001. The campus could also expand to house classrooms for the new medical school. And UTPA officials have visions of providing more residential housing for what is largely a commuter school.

While Rodriguez will provide input on the bricks and mortar aspect of the university, he said he also believes the development corporation can help further the university’s larger role of serving the Valley’s educational needs.

Both the development corporation and UTPA are invested in economic development. While UTPA’s growth has clear implications for Edinburg, it also helps the larger region as the new university is built.

“We have always believed that UTPA is meant to serve the entire Rio Grande Valley, so what we do happens well beyond Edinburg,” Rodriguez said. “The new university only serves to build and strengthen those communities.”


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